Wreck of the SS Ville du Havre

On 15 November 1873, the Ville du Havre sailed from New York with 313 passengers and crew on board, under the command of Captain Marino Surmonte.

After a week's steaming across the Atlantic ocean, she collided with the iron clipper, Loch Earn at about 2am on the morning of Saturday, 22 November at the position 47°21′N 35°31′W. At the time of the collision, Ville du Havre was proceeding under both steam and sail at about 12 knots.

The Captain of the Loch Earn, after first sighting the Ville du Havre and realising she was dangerously close, rang the ship's bell and ported his helm. The helm of the Loch Earn was put to starboard, but Ville du Havre came right across the Loch Earn's bow. The Ville du Havre was violently shaken by the collision and noise, and woke all the passengers. Confused, most passengers went on deck, only to discover the ship was rapidly sinking. The captain assured them that all was fine, but in reality the cruiser had been nearly broken in two, and it didn't take long for passengers to realize the situation was desperate. Commotion and chaos overtook panicked passengers. They started grabbing life preservers and trying to push lifeboats into the water. Unfortunately, these had recently been painted, and they were now stuck fast to the deck. Finally a few of them were yanked loose, and passengers fought desperately to be one of the few travelers to board those rescue boats.

Shortly after the collision, Ville du Havre's main and mizzen masts collapsed, smashing two of the liner's life boats and killing several people. The time for saving life was very short as the ship sank quickly, and finally broke into two pieces as she went. Captain Robertson of the Loch Earn did all he possibly could to rescue the drowning and eventually 61 passengers and 26 of the crew were rescued and taken on board that ship. However, 226 passengers and crew perished.

The Loch Earn, herself in danger of sinking, was subsequently rescued by the American cargo ship, Tremountain and all Ville du Havre passengers and crew were transferred to that ship. The Loch Earn, with its bow smashed in, commenced to sink as the bulkheads gave way, so she was abandoned at sea by her crew and sank shortly afterwards.

In 1871, Horatio Spafford, a prosperous lawyer and devout Presbyterian church elder and his wife, Anna, were living comfortably with their four young daughters in Chicago. In that year the great fire broke out and devastated the entire city. Two years later the family decided to vacation with friends in Europe. At the last moment Horatio was detained by business, and Anna and the girls went on ahead, sailing on the ocean liner S.S. Ville de Havre. On November 21, 1873, the liner was rammed amid ship by a British vessel and sank within minutes. Anna was picked up unconscious on a floating spar, but the four children had drowned.

Sinking of the Ville du Havre

In 1873, to benefit his wife's health, Spafford planned an extended stay in Europe for his family. At the last moment Spafford was detained by real estate business, but Anna and the four girls sailed to Paris on the steamer Ville du Havre. Within twelve minutes on November 21, 1873, the luxury steamer sank in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean after being rammed by the British iron sailing ship the Lochearn.

Anna's Telegram to Horatio

Anna was picked up unconscious by the crew of the Lochearn, which itself was in danger of sinking. Fortunately, the Trimountain, a cargo sailing vessel, arrived to save the survivors. Nine days after the shipwreck Anna landed in Cardiff, Wales, and cabled Horatio, "Saved alone. What shall I do . . ."

"It Is Well with My Soul"

After receiving Anna's telegram, Horatio immediately left Chicago to bring his wife home. On the Atlantic crossing, the captain of his ship called Horatio to his cabin to tell him that they were passing over the spot where his four daughters had perished. He wrote to Rachel, his wife's half-sister, "On Thursday last we passed over the spot where she went down, in mid-ocean, the waters three miles deep. But I do not think of our dear ones there. They are safe, folded, the dear lambs."